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Red Cross supports residents displaced by San Jose apartment fire

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Resident writes appreciate thank-you note about volunteers' efforts

A fire in an historic apartment building in downtown San Jose in mid-July displaced more than 100 residents, many of whom were promptly provided temporary shelter, food, and other support by the American Red Cross.

"Within three hours of a Disaster Action Team being dispatched from the Silicon Valley Chapter, a shelter team was ready to start welcoming clients," says Terry Unter, DAT administrator, client casework supervisor, and board member for the chapter.

The rapid response was immensely helpful to many of the 104 residents of the Vintage Tower building who fled their homes shortly after 4 a.m. on Sunday, July 17. Residents of the 12-story Art Deco building, located across the street from City Hall, were forced to evacuate when a small fire started on one of the upper floors.

While the fire was quickly extinguished, the building's sprinkler system left many of the building's 60 apartments with waterlogged walls and wet carpets — and residents needing a temporary place to stay.

"Initially, a lot of the residents were stranded because power was turned off and the elevators weren't operational," Unter says. "So one of our early tasks was helping people get possessions out of their apartments."

Unter says a total of approximately 60 volunteers from the Red Cross — almost all from the Silicon Valley Chapter — helped with the initial evacuation, opened the Red Cross shelter, kept the shelter operational for more than a week while repairs on the building began, and provided key help with casework.

The volunteers at the Red Cross shelter, located nearby at Burnett Middle School on North 2nd Street, supported between 25 and 30 residents from the apartment building.

One of those residents was a 71-year-old man who prefers to just go by the name of "Dan." Because he was so appreciative of the Red Cross's shelter and volunteer support, Dan penned a very touching thank-you note for the Red Cross.

"I want to thank every member of the rescue team that manned [the] 850 N. Second Gym for Vintage Towers refugees," he wrote of the 24-7 Red Cross support he and his neighbors received. "I think I speak for everyone of us there by saying how terrific you all were."

Contacted later, Dan said the shelter, food, and other support the residents received from the Red Cross helped make a difficult situation much less grim. In support of the displaced residents, for example, the Red Cross shelter provided more than 200 overnight stays and served more than 800 meals and 2,300 snacks.

"The note was just a summary of the feelings of everyone there," Dan says. "It was just a spontaneous note to thank the Red Cross people for being so helpful and passionate with us."

Like many of those neighbors, Dan stayed in the Red Cross shelter for all 10 days it was operational; at that point, the operation of the shelter was transferred to HomeFirst, an agency contracted by the city. Within another week, the shelter was closed because hotel accommodations were provided to all of the families by the owners of the Vintage Towers.

Unter says the Red Cross's followup client casework for many of the residents has continued. But he's hopeful that Dan and his neighbors will be back in their apartments soon.

"Based on what we have heard from the building owners, we expect all will be back in within six to eight weeks, once repairs are completed," Unter says. "So eventually, this incident will have a happy ending."

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Caption: The historic Vintage Tower apartment building, located across the street from City Hall in San Jose. (Photo: Terry Unter)